By Paul Homewood
Expansion is a victory for Russia and China who want to bolster the bloc against competition from the West
JOHANNESBURG—The Brics group of emerging nations has invited six additional countries to join the bloc in an effort to grow its global importance and ability to challenge the West on key political and economic issues.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Argentina, Iran, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates have been invited to join Brics, which currently comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the bloc’s leaders said on Thursday, the final day of a summit in Johannesburg.
The expansion of Brics is a victory for Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who had pushed to grow the bloc in the face of intensifying geopolitical and economic competition with the West. They argued that a bigger club would give the developing world a stronger voice that is more equal to its size.
“Let us work together to write a new chapter of emerging-market countries… working together for development,” Xi said in translated remarks at a news conference at the end of the summit.
Xi has been wooing developing nations at the summit this week, as Beijing looks to shore up friendships among African nations, as well as countries in Latin America and parts of Asia that are traditionally suspicious of U.S. power.
Joining the summit by video link, Putin also welcomed the addition of new members and said they would help galvanize the bloc. “We all stand for the building of a new multipolar world order, one that is truly balanced,” said Putin.
The Russian president has boosted efforts to court developing nations as Russia seeks to expand into new markets and make new allies to lessen the impact of Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
Putin couldn’t attend the summit in person, as the host, South Africa, would have been obliged to arrest him under a warrant for his arrest issued in March by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. He made no mention in his remarks of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner paramilitary group, who died in a plane crash on Wednesday.
Brazil and India had advocated for a more gradual expansion of Brics amid concerns that the group could become too far aligned against the West, morphing into an autocratic version of the Group of Seven major economies.
It appears that Brics is headed in that direction, with just one of the six newly-admitted nations—Argentina—ranked as “free” in Freedom House’s widely used global freedom index, with a score of 85 out of 100. The other five countries are all designated “not free,” with scores ranging from eight to 21.
Still, Brazil and India voiced their support for the expansion at the summit on Thursday. “India has always believed that the addition of new members would further strengthen Brics as an organization,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
Bracketed together originally by the clip of their economic growth, the current Brics nations account for more than a quarter of the global economy and some 42% of the world’s population.
The Brics leaders said the admission of six new members was a first step and further nations would be invited to join in the future. More than 20 countries, including Nigeria, Indonesia, Venezuela and Argentina, had formally expressed interest in joining the bloc ahead of the summit. The first six new members will join at the start of next year.
Analysts said the addition of new countries could further undermine coherence and decision-making in the bloc, whose current members already represent vastly different economic and governance systems and ideologies and who have taken divergent approaches to their relationship with the U.S.